Paiute Tribes

paiute tribesOne may be forgiven when confusing the different tribes of the Paiute. They are closely related, and though they do come from different tribes, their geographic regions do overlap. Traditionally, the Paiute Native Americans come from three separate tribes. The Northern Paiute populated California, Idaho, Nevada and portions of Oregon, the Owens Valley Paiute from California and Nevada, and the Southern Paiute of Arizona, southeastern California, Nevada, and Utah. Since there is distinct overlap between the different tribes, geographically, there are also significant shared cultural aspects, such as language. That does not make the tribes the same though, as each tribe has their own heritage and history.

The Northern Paiute are the most well documented of the three tribes, and have had the most original contact with settlers. They were a desert-inhabiting tribe that centered a specific water-giving territory. Each band would find their own area, and settle down in a place that had an ample supply of the fish or waterfowl that made up the primary source of their diet. Locataed in the Great Basin of eastern California, western Nevada, and southeast Oregon, individual bands would also have their local animal population as food source and trade material for the other Northern Paiute tribes in the area. Since there was constant intermarriage and migration of families, individual tribes more were named for their food source and their trade offerings then any specific racial divide.

The Northern Paiute maintained generally friendly relations with the other tribal people around them. They were very closely linked with the western Shoshone, though they did not interact as peacefully with the Washoe tribal people. Unfortunately, their relations with the incoming European settlers was destined for conflict, and led to several significant conflicts over several decades, from the 1860s through the 1870s. Eventually the wars provoked military interventions, and the federal government attempted to establish reservations for the Northern Paiute in Oregon.

The Paiute people proved extremely resistant to the established reservation, since the climate and lifestyle was such a departure from their more traditional way of life. Most refused, and those that went eventually left the reservation and returned to their traditional grounds, where they attempted retain their lifestyle. When that failed they sought work with settling ranchers and farmers, while forming ‘Indian Colonies’ with the Shoshone and Washoe around the Reno area. They maintained these colonies until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, when they gained recognition as an independent tribe.

In contrast to the Northern Paiute, the Owens Valley Paiute tribes are the least documented of the three Paiute tribal groups. Until very recently, they were generally considered an extension of the Northern Paiute Tribes. They maintained a similar lifestyle as the Northern Paiute, though their tribes were centered around the Owens River on the southern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Owens Valley Paiute did consider themselves their own tribal identity, and called the full name of their tribe the Nün‘wa Paya Hup Ca’a‘ Otuu’mu – ‘Coyotes children living in the water ditch’.

Like the Northern Paiute, the Owens Valley Paiute had good relations with their neighbors, the Shoshone, but poor relations with the new European settlers. The Owens Valley Paiute even spoke the same language as the Shoshone tribe. The eventual conflict between the Paiute and settlers culminated with a war over the Owens Valley that lasted from 1861 to 1865. The eventual relocation of the tribes from this region grouped the Owens Valley Paiute with the Northern Paiute, they shared space and ended up in many of the same reservations and colonies near Bridgeport and Independence in California. The Indian Reorganization Act also recognized the Owens Valley Paiute tribes, and by the 1990s there are over 2,500 members of these tribes recognized on various reservations.

The Southern Paiute were the second Paiute tribe recognized from that region. The tribe traditionally lived in the Colorado River Basin and the Mojave Desert. Several branches of the tribe mixed with the Paiute tribes in the Owens Valley as well. Despite the close living with the Owens Valley Paiute, the southern branches of this tribe had a distinctly different language that was more similar to the Northern Paiute Tribe then anything from the Owens Valley Tribal language.

They often mixed with other tribes as well, such as the Navajo, and the coastal tribe of the Chumash of the Central Coast, this meant that despite their location in more barren regions, they had better contact with the tribes surrounding them. This led to more conflict as well, and the Southern Paiute often were the victims of slave raiding from other tribes. Unlike the other two main Paiute branches, the Southern Paiute integrated mostly peacefully with Eurpoean settlers, due to settlement by the Mormon missionaries in the 1850s. The tribe worked closely with the Mormon settlers that occupied their water sources, and created a co-dependent relationship. When more European settlers and farmers occupied the area the Southern Paiute gradually lost their tribal identities as the new settlers’ styles worked against their traditional ways of life. The Southern Paiute went to reservation life relatively peacefully, which backfired when their tribal identity was terminated in 1954, only to be restored in 1980.

When looking at tribal identity, most people draw the conclusion that all the tribes from the same general area must have been from the same tribe. Since our sense of scale has become so much larger due to ease of travel, this means that many tribes get clumped together because they occupied the same space, or what we would consider the area of the same state. Tribal life was much more segregated, small microclimates and areas close by could foster different tribal cultures and identities. The different tribes of the Paiute are a good example of this phenomenon, what was once considered a single people has reasserted their tribal identities, and said, “No…we are different, and you must recognize us for that difference.”

18 Responses to Paiute Tribes

  1. Bill Waters says:

    Hello, I am researching the legends of the white Giants because my Artifacts show the Giants doing evil things to the small Indian people, This is shown on many of my Artifacts, other Artifacts show things like Dogs, wolves, Buffalo and other animals so not all of my Artifacts show the evil white Giants but many do. In most of them there is a small person in the Giants hair and the small Indian is crying and afraid, the giant would remove a foot and stick the small Indian in his hair to remove the lice or to be eaten later. I hope to find a Legend about the small Indian in the Giants hair. Some stones show the Giant Eating the small Indian alive, very distrubing. I would appreciate any Help. Thank You, Bill Waters

  2. Riley says:

    Look, this is awsome

  3. Jason says:

    I’m from Sacramento, currently living in the DC area…Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe right here representin!!!

  4. Jasmica says:

    Wow, thanx needed this info for a projesct for school, and guess what your info kinda helped thanx…b ut otherwise it did not realy help at all :( :( :(

  5. Michael Baker says:

    After a spiritual revelation at Three Forks in southeastern Oregon, I am attempting to write a story about the Northern Paiutes and the Snake War. There was a battle there on May 27-28, 1866 between the Paiutes and Major Marshall and the U.S. cavalry. In all of my research I cannot find the name of the chief of that band. It was large band of 250 to 300 warriors, and he supposedly was killed in the battle. Thanks.

    • admin says:

      I’m sorry, but everything I have/can find just says ‘the chief’ and no name. I wish you luck!

      • Michael Baker says:

        Thanks for the effort. I surely has not been easy. If I were to visit Fort McDermitt of Duck Valley, do you think an elderly might have some insight to this battle or chief? I would assume a majority of the Northern Paiutes found their way to ne of these locations. Thanks.

      • Lahnisaa says:

        This relly helped me thanks so much thank you thank you!!!!!!!!!:)

  6. Michael Baker says:

    Recently at Three Forks, my girl friend and I experienced something far from the norm. One late afternoon with binoculars at distance (probably 3 to 4 miles) we saw a chief in the side of the mountain with a women directly below him in the rocks. She had blonde hair and very large padded feet. That was interesting, but what followed next was very intriguing … suddenly many petroglyphs appeared on the rock walls from that distance. They revealed the history and lifestyle of the Paiutes. They were white inside black rectangular boxes. The next day we hiked through the snake infested country to the rock where the chief and Indian appeared. There were no petroglyphs anywhere on the rock faces. Later back at camp we saw the Chief and his companion again but no petroglyphs.
    This spiritual experience appeared for some unknown reason. Being a writer, I feel like I am being directed to write about this nameless chief and clear his name of the Chinese massacre that led to the battle at Three Forks. Most thought it was chief Egan. Could it be Howluck with his big feet (he also had a battle here with Crook later). There was definitely a reason we saw those petroglyphs in a vision.

  7. Michael Baker says:

    Thought you might enjoy this. The possible ending to my story “SNAKE WAR IN OWHEE COUNTRTY.

    As we ascended the mountain, there was eager anticipation and a bit fear within us. We had been at the Three Forks of the Owyhee River for a week. Near sunset the day before, we discovered on a distant mountain outcropping a resemblance of an Indian chief and a woman immediately beneath him. As the sun set slowly, her hair turned golden blonde, and then the spectacle began. On the walls of rock the petroglyphs became visible, revealing descriptive accounts of the Native Americans passage in life. That was the justification behind the trek to this mountain, and to our surprise there were no petroglyphs on the rock walls. There was only silence. Why had we been allowed to experience this phenomenon? After returning to camp we once again saw the chief and his woman, but no mythical story on rock walls. Who was this mysterious chief, who colorfully dressed in red trappings and riding a big white horse, died here long ago at the battle of Three Forks?

  8. potatoe says:

    I found this helpful

  9. potatoe says:

    can you post what battles they where in an where they where at ?

  10. Caroline King says:

    Maybe you can help me. My grandfathers’ grandmother was half blooded Piaute. Her father was full blooded and her mother was a missionary. I suspect the mother may have been Mormon as that seems to be the only Christian group mentioned with the Piautes on the internet. Assuming 20 years for every generation to produce the next generation, they met about 120 years ago when polygamy was widely practiced; shortly after their marriage, they went to Ohio. Is it possible to find the name of the Piaute ancestor and which nation he came from?

    • admin says:

      The Mormons keep extremely detailed records of all members no matter how long ago, and tracks offspring as well regardless of what faith they choose. Contacting the genealogy library is probably your best bet.

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